kitchen table math, the sequel: slower math students in Singapore

Monday, May 30, 2011

slower math students in Singapore

from the Air report on math education in Singapore:
The topic structure in Singapore’s framework is efficient because topics are not taught and retaught as students move through the primary grades. Instead of repeating topics that students have already learned, teachers simply reintroduce them as a foundation on which to build new mathematical content. This practice, however, may not be suitable for students who have more difficulty with mathematics. The Singapore system recognizes that students who have trouble with mathematics may not attain mastery by following Singapore’s regular program of mathematics instruction and that these students may need special assistance to attain competence.

Beginning in grades 5 and 6, Singapore identifies its weaker students on the basis of a general examination of mathematics and language competency. These students receive special assistance and are taught according to a special fifth- and sixth-grade mathematics framework. This special framework mandates that students in the slower track

• receive approximately 30 percent more mathematics instruction than students in the regular track, and

• be exposed to the same mathematical content as students in the regular track, although at a slower pace.

The mathematics framework for students needing compensatory assistance adds review material to strengthen students’ understanding of previously taught content. For example, topics on numbers and geometry taught in grade 4 are repeated at a faster pace in grade 5. The introduction of some new concepts such as ratios, rates, and averages, which are normally introduced in grade 5, are delayed until grade 6 for the weaker students (Ministry of Education, 2001a). What is important, however, is that because slower students spend extra time studying mathematics, topics usually taught in grades 5 and 6 do not have to be completely sacrificed to make room for repetition.6

To support the framework for slower students, Singapore has developed a Learning Support Program to help educators identify these students and provide them with extra help (Ministry of Education 2003c). Mathematics Support Teachers (MST), who receive on-the-job supervision and specialized training to ensure that they are professionally competent, deliver compensatory assistance.

In the United States, we expect all students to meet the standards in state frameworks, but the standards do not help teachers address the needs of slower students. In fact, U.S. standards do not acknowledge that students learn at different rates. No Child Left Behind addresses the needs of failing schools, but it does not directly require that failing students receive help. Although some research evidence supports the belief that students benefit when the curriculum is adjusted to match their ability levels (Loveless, 1999), a distinct alternative curriculum would raise concerns in the United States about potential harm to students from ability grouping. Singapore’s approach differs from traditional ability grouping in that Singapore establishes a framework that requires students to master the same content as other students, not a watered-down curriculum as often happens in U.S. ability grouped classrooms. Singapore also provides extra assistance from an expert teacher.

What the United States Can Learn From Singapore’s World-Class Mathematics System: An Exploratory Study (and what Singapore can learn from the United States)
Apparently teachers in Singapore do not deliver 10-minute mini lessons followed by 40 minutes of one-on-one work with the students who are "struggling."


CassyT said...

Chiming in:
Students in Singapore get 4.5 - 5.5 hours per week of math at the elementary (primary level).

Classes usually run early morning to 1:30 or so, then lunch, then co-curricular activities. Students who are identified as struggling math (or English or Mother Tongue classes) are pulled out of non-core classes like art, music, pe, for additional teaching.

Singapore's MOE on the Learning Support Programme:
Learning Support for Maths (LSM)

Learning Support for Mathematics (LSM) is an early intervention effort aimed at providing additional support to pupils who do not have foundational numeracy skills and knowledge to access the Primary 1 Maths curriculum. Pupils were identified for the intervention through a screening process carried out at the beginning of Primary 1. They were supported by a LSM Teacher for 4–8 periods a week.

We were told that the math courses available after school during co-curricular time are math games and club that improve math understandings (as opposed to teaching or tutoring)

School is compulsory through 6th grade in Singapore, although it's pretty rare for a student to dropout then.
From the MOE website:
Primary Education consists of a 4-year foundation stage from Primary 1 to 4 and a 2-year orientation stage from Primary 5 to 6. The overall aim of primary education is to give students a good grasp of English language, Mother Tongue and Mathematics.

Fast Facts
-6 years of compulsory education
-No school fees
-Subject-based Banding allows students to offer a mix of standard and foundation subjects, depending on their strengths
-National examination: Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE)
-Students are encouraged to participate in Co-Curricular Activities (CCAs) and Community Involvement Programmes (CIP)

Catherine Johnson said...

Cassy - thank you!

Sounds to me, from the AIR report, that things change in 5th grade---

CassyT said...

In 5th grade, struggling students (and I seem to recall it's less than 10%, anyone know?) are placed in the Foundation track for math. They get a reduced syllabus. The Foundation texts I have from Singapore are called Math Works. I'll try to scan the nice content chart from the front as it's a great comparison. The Foundations content begins on page 33 of the MOE Primary Mathematics Syllabus.

Anonymous said...

All US students are treated as "slower students", as the US math curriculum is snail-paced.